Shoemaker of the Opera

Published Dec 13, 2011


She may not quite be a shoe elf, but Jodie Morrison has shod an elf. The Aussie just spent a week in Cape Town, sorting out the shoes for the forthcoming The Phantom of the Opera production, having come from Wellington, New Zealand.

She was in New Zealand to work on the film set of The Hobbit – which is where she had to make boots and shoes for Hugo Weaving and Orlando Bloom, who play elves Elrond and Legolas respectively in this Lord of the Rings (LotR) prequel, as well as dwarf boots and a little something for Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen). The shoe crew who worked on the LotR films have retired so she applied for the job.

“They have a workshop on site and I’ve been coming over to them because they’re not shoemakers, but costume prop people. It’s been lots of fun,” Morrison said.

She is a shoemaker who makes bespoke shoes for theatre and film productions, which means making shoes from scratch. The first time she worked on The Phantom of the Opera musical was 21 years ago when it first opened in Melbourne.

“It’s still a joy to work on Phantom. It’s such attention to detail and none of that’s been lost over the years. The integrity of the original designs has absolutely been kept,” she said.

For each Phantom production she works on, stock is used for understudies, but about 100 pairs – from sandals for the opening sequence, the masquerade boots and the work boots for the Opera House stage hands to court shoes for the women – are made to measure.

The Phantom shoes and boots contain the minutest details which aren’t apparent to the audience, “but the performers see it. It just makes it that little bit special for them”.

For the Cape Town production the initial measurements were sent to her workshop and she came out in July to fit the shoes and note any detailed measurements. Then she brought the final products out last week, fine-tuning the shoes with laces and bows. The performers are always happy to see her: “Like with Mary Poppins, I took the shoes in and they tap danced for me. For me. It’s like… what a life. I get to see what I’ve made, work. This is a special thing.”

Her grandfather was in the business of making character clothes for children, so she’s always been surrounded by the idea of playing dress-up. She thought shoe-making was a good idea and started working in a shoe factory in 1976, but quickly realised she preferred made-to-measure shoes.

Since most of her friends were actors in film and television, it seemed a natural progression, and it is a job that’s taken her around the world. The 57-year-old mostly works in Australia and the Asian Pacific region: “I have the best time and work with really nice people. I get to travel the world and be at home enough.”

Her business, Steppin’ Out, is based in Sydney and depending on what they’re doing, up to nine people can be working in the 180m2 workshop filled with thousands of lasts of various shapes, heel heights and sizes.

“When we were doing The Hobbit we had to bring other people in because every stitch is handstitched… it’s crazy.”

She is the pattern cutter, so if she’s supervising all day she has to work into the night to finish the complicated patterns. In addition to making shoes for other people, she makes all her own shoes: “When I packed to come here for seven days, I think I packed six pairs of shoes.”

Morrison always has people waiting for their orders for shoes so she thinks she’d feel guilty if she put her wants above their needs, but she always makes a point of making something special for opening night. For example, for the opening night of Hairspray she and her friends put on special outfits, including the shoes.

“I work in this fabulous space called Canal Road Film Centre, so there are wig makers, costume makers. We can all kind of frock-up. We all work together and it’s just the most marvellous atmosphere.”

Back home she’s been working on the theatre productions of Wicked, Mary Poppins and Love Never Dies, the musical written by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber as a continuation of the Phantom story, which has been reworked for Australia.

lThe Phantom of the Opera runs at the Teatro in Montecasino from January 31.


Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera is Broadway’s longest-running musical, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Containing exquisite costumes and scenery and some serious special effects, the production tells the story of a disfigured musical genius, known as The Phantom, who haunts the bowels of the Paris Opera House.

Mesmerised by the talent of a young soprano named Christine Daae, The Phantom tutors her in music and falls in love with his student.

Unaware of her love for Raoul, his obsession sets the scene for jealousy, madness and passion to collide.

Some Phantom facts:

lIt is estimated the production has been seen in 149 cities by more than 100 million people;

lThe Phantom’s make-up takes two hours to put on and 30 minutes to take off. The face is moisturised, closely shaved and the prosthetics are fitted, setting immediately, before two wigs, two radio mics and two contact lenses (one white, one clouded) are put in place;

lThe replica of the Paris Opera House chandelier comprises 6 000 beads consisting of 35 beads to each string. It is 3m wide and weighs one ton. The touring version falls at 2.5m a second. The original version was built by five people in four weeks;

l2 230m of fabric was used for the drapes, 900 of them specially dyed. The tasselled fringes measure 226m. They are made up of 250kg of dyed wool interwoven with 5 000 wooden beads imported from India. Each one is handmade and combed through with an Afro comb;

lEach performance uses 281 candles, 250kg of dry ice and 10 fog and smoke machines.

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